Water shortages and pollution are a bigger danger to the planet than climate change and fossil fuels, according to a survey published this week.
A global public survey commissioned by Circle of Blue, a network of international journalists, looked at water use and views on water pollution in 15 countries.
The survey found water conservation and management was viewed as the single biggest environmental problem facing the world today, ahead of air pollution, depletion of natural resources, loss of habitat and climate change.
The survey, which coincides with World Water Week in Stockholm, polled 1,000 people from each of the 15 countries.
It found 93 percent of people asked saw water pollution as a serious problem and 91 percent were concerned about freshwater shortages.
The results showed more than half agree governments should be held responsible for providing clean drinking water, although 78 percent of people feel companies must provide significant help to tackle the surrounding issues.
People in China were least likely to claim individual citizens were responsible (30 percent).
There were conflicting opinions among countries about the most important problems facing water users. Those surveyed in Mexico are most concerned about lack of water for agriculture, while Indians said the cost of drinking water was a concern.
J Carl Ganter, Circle of Blue co-founder and Director, said: "This research shows that across the globe, concerns about water are reaching a critical level of public consciousness.
“People think water is the most important environmental concern, in many cases more pressing than climate change.
“It's the axis issue that intersects the world's greatest challenges, from health, poverty and security to climate, immigration and environment, even financial and commodities markets."
The survey was carried out by GlobeScan, a global survey research firm.
Chris Coulter, Vice President of GlobeScan, said: "This research confirms the general public's awareness and understanding of water as a critical resource, as well as the importance of conserving and protecting fresh water supplies through stewardship. From locale to locale, the angles of most concern may vary, but the concern about water issues is pressing virtually everywhere."
Canada topped the per-person water usage list, with residents using an average of 759 litres per day compared to the next highest users, those in the US, on 570 litres per day.
The British came in sixth, behind Mexico, Russia and India. However, India was the biggest user of water overall, and used the largest percentage of water on agriculture (89 percent).
More than five million people die each year due to a lack of safe drinking water, and the United Nations estimates that 5.5 billion people will lack adequate access to fresh water in the next 20 years.